Food Waste And How Packaging Can Help

Currently, food waste is at an alarming level. According to studies by WRAP [1], households are the biggest contributors to food waste. In the UK alone, 15 million tonnes (33 billion Ibs) of edible food are wasted annually, representing a total wasted value of £19.5 billion (US$27.6 billion) [2]. Bakery is responsible for 560,000 tonnes (1.2 billion lbs) of food waste in the UK, with 80% of that being avoidable. In the US, about 20% of the bread purchased at home is thrown away every year [3]; that represents around 800 million loaves of bread wasted annually. In Canada, similarly, over half of edible foods are discarded without being eaten. This is happening while 1 in 7 persons in Canada suffer from insufficient food availability. It is estimated that by avoiding food loss, Canada can save up to 50 billion dollars every year [4].  

When these wastes end up in landfills, they generate methane, a greenhouse gas (GHG) that is 25 times more potent as carbon dioxide. This gas traps heat in the earth’s atmosphere which leads to global warming and change in large-scale weather patterns. Currently, 8% of all greenhouse gases worldwide are the results of food waste. Studies shows that if we assume global food waste as a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter, after China and the United States [5]. That food waste country would use the land area equivalent to Mexico, consume 172 billion m3 of water, and cost £616 billion (US$872 billion) [6].


The important question here is ‘what can we do?’. Apart from campaigns and initiatives that are encouraging consumers to cut avoidable food waste, packaging also plays a key role in minimizing food waste. Packaging protects food products from contamination, provides physical protection for contents, enhances food safety, extends shelf life, and delivers significant information to customers. Studies prove that eliminating packaging would increase food waste and GHG emissions exponentially. For instance, 20% more bread would be wasted if it wasn’t packaged when produced [3]. WRAP estimated that by increasing shelf life of the packaged food by only 1 day, 260,000 tonnes (573 million lbs) of food waste could be prevented in the UK annually [7]. This can significantly reduce the negative environmental impact of food waste, considering the fact that by cutting each tonne of food waste, 5 tonnes of carbon dioxide could be avoided. But this effect is not limited to lower GHG emissions. Cutting off the avoidable food waste would also save money for costumers and businesses, strengthen food supply system, and improve food availability. So, development of optimized packaging is essential to limit negative environmental and economic impacts of generated food waste. Among all packaging materials, plastic is the most effective material for many food products and for bakery items specifically, such as for bread, buns and tortillas, it is the most sustainable material. The main reason for bread waste is staleness/ dryness and plastic provides the best barrier to minimize moisture loss. It also provides the longest shelf life, which in turn prevents food waste at the retail and household levels. Plastic is a part of solution for reducing negative environmental impacts, not the problem. The challenge is then educating consumers and developing collection and recycling programs to eliminate plastic waste in the environment.


[1] WRAP, “Reducing food waste by extending product life,” 2015. [Online]. Available:
[2] WRAP, “Food Waste Prevention-Digest Series,” 2015.
[3] Statista, “Distribution of consumption and waste of bread in the United States as of 2016”, July 2016.
[4] National Zero Waste Council, “Food Waste – The Issue,” [Online]. Available:
[5] U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “Food wastage footprint, Impacts on natural resources,” 2013. [Online]. Available:
[6] WRAP, “Food waste prevention information at your fingertips – digests and recorded webinars,” 2016. [Online]. Available:
[7] WRAP, “Extending product life to reduce food waste,” 2015. [Online]. Available:

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